The Relocalization of Food Processing

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Much attention has focused on food safety in the past year and. Articles on how buying more local food can increase the safety of the food your family eats have been published on blogs, in newspapers, and in magazines like Newsweek and National Geographic. The recommendation to get more of our food from local sources is not new, but there is an companion issue to the localization, or perhaps more correctly, the relocalization of our food supply that unfortunately does not get near the attention of its more mainstream sibling. I think of this as the relocalization of our food processing industry. When it comes to increasing food safety, having food processed locally is perhaps the biggest step that could be taken.

It is however an issue that gets almost no press. A Google searches for either “relocalization of food processing” or “localization of food processing”, return zero results. Break the phrase up and you get some results, but the majority of them are unrelated to this specific issue. This may be because people smarter than me have decided that it is a losing proposition to even consider the idea. Why? Maybe because the average consumer already sees food prices as too high. Localizing food processing facilities may indeed add to these already high costs and families with an already stretched budget can’t be expected to support something that will strain that budget even further. But food safety is an important issue and as the past year has shown us the current methods of food production and processing are often unsafe.

Right now the bagged lettuce that is purchased in San Francisco, Boston, Miami, Chicago, or even Anchorage, may all be processed at one facility in California. The centralization of food processing has occurred almost across the board. If a food is bagged, boxed, canned, or in anyway packaged for delivery to your grocery, it has probably been done at one of a few huge industrial-scale plants and then shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to the place where you purchase it. The problem with the single huge processing facility and our food safety is that a contamination at a single processing facility can become a national or international problem overnight, potentially affecting thousands or even millions of people. When food processing is done on a more local scale, problems that arise have a far less reaching effect.

As mentioned above, the main roadblock to the relocalization of food processing is, like everything in our food supply, the increased cost. Just as the cost of food production is artificially low, kept there by the huge scale of modern industrial-scale farming, the cost of food processing is also artificially low. This may indeed be a losing proposition, but I throw it out for debate. What do you think? Is it even possible that our current food distribution and processing system can be made safer? Are the risks that are involved with our current system more than offset by the lower prices at the grocery store?

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Will Sig
1 Anna

Will you said: ‘The problem with the single huge processing facility and our food safety is that a contamination at a single processing facility can become a national or international problem overnight, potentially affecting thousands or even millions of people.’ – excellent point. Anna 🙂

Annas last blog post..My Photography Year 2008 in Review

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2 Bob

Hey Will excellent point, the problem being is the cost, especially with today’s financial crisis. Until we get that international overnight problem things are not going to change, sad.

Bobs last blog post..The Green Flash, the Red Flash

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3 Ruth

I’m thinking it would be a great idea to go to home-production as much as possible…need canned or frozen veggies? Have a garden and home-can or freeze them yourself. Need meat? Raise chickens and/or rabbits (pretty easy, I’ve heard, you can do it in your basement) or find a local farmer to buy from.

With the Peak Oil situation we’re all going to have to do this eventually anyway, not a bad idea to get started now. With the produce, at least, it’s cheaper in the long run too, I read somewhere not long ago that $50 of seeds and gardening supplies will produce over $1,000 worth of food. I even found an organization that gives away free seeds to anyone who wants to start a garden, the website is http://www.dinnergarden.org.
.-= Ruth´s last blog ..It’s all downhill from here……. =-.

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4 Will

Hi Ruth – You are correct about the garden. Plus there is nothing like walking out to the garden at 5pm and picking what you are going to eat at 6pm.

Here the difficulty with raising chickens is getting them plucked if you can’t do it yourself. There is only one person in the business and she is VERY busy and takes on no new clients.
.-= Will´s last blog ..Can The World Really Afford To Eat Ethically? =-.

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5 Ruth

That’s true–there’s also the sort of “ick” factor in the slaughtering process for some people. I don’t know if you remember that show Frontier House on PBS a few years ago? One family was raising a pig and the little boy got so upset when it was time to slaughter it. Like his mom said on the show, when you’re raising animals for food they’re going to get killed at some point. With the current food production system it’s become so sanitized in a way, everything in the store is wrapped up in neat little packages and people don’t have to think about where their food comes from, or they think they don’t anyway.
.-= Ruth´s last blog ..It’s all downhill from here……. =-.

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